Online Security After a Breakup: It’s Just Like Starting Over

Thursday, September 24, 2015


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Getting divorced? Break up with your longtime girlfriend or boyfriend? Have a troublesome teenager at home? You need a better way to recover your online accounts if you’ve forgotten the password or your account was compromised, hacked or otherwise accessed by someone unauthorized by you. 

Starting Over with a New Identity

Those questions you get asked on web sites to help you recover or reset your password should you forget it are completely useless. Anyone who knows you, such as your spouse, longtime boyfriend or girlfriend, or even a teenage child will likely know the answers to all of those questions. They know your first car, your favorite color, where you went on your honeymoon, the first album you bought, what high school you went to and my favorite: Your mother’s maiden name. All of these questions are all too easy for someone who knows you to answer correctly and then they can change your password and access your private information. What you need is another system in addition to the one I covered earlier on passwords

Creating a Fake Identity

This other system is a made-up identity with answers to all those questions you get asked on the online services you connect with and rely on. Its easy if you think of yourself as an actor performing a role in a film. You need to know their history, what they like, and all the other little details. You won’t share this fake identity with anyone but it will be easy for you to remember because its the only one you will use. This doesn’t mean you won’t use your real name and a real email address. It's just that when you get asked to put in your mother’s maiden name you will put in the fake one from your fake identity.

The Details

You will want to create an identity that includes the answers to any potential questions and it will work best if it's one you can perform just as an actor would in a movie. The reason it works best if you can live the role is so that when you’re asked a security question you didn’t think of an answer to you will be able to create an ‘in character’ answer on the spot and remember it.

Here is a sample list of the types of questions that are commonly asked:

Mother’s maiden name?

Where did you go to high school?

What was your first car?

What was the name of your first boyfriend/girlfriend?

Who is your favorite actor/musician/artist?

What city were you born in?

What is your favorite movie?

What is your favorite color?

What is your father’s/mother’s middle name?

What was the name of your high school mascot?

What was the name of your first grade teacher?

This is just a short list as there are others that are starting to show up as online services improve their security and they’ve realized that your ‘Mother’s maiden name’ is a terrible security question.

Here is an Example

To get in character you need to think up the person who is your fake identity. Be careful about picking your fantasy self or the fantasy self of a well-known celebrity because as I said earlier someone who knows you well might be able to figure this out. Definitely create a fantasy person as this will make it easier for you to remember and definitely don’t pick a real person. You could also pick a character from a novel as long as you don’t have any reason to think someone who knows you could guess your character’s details.

An Example of My Fantasy Fake Identity

I’m an Asian male who was born in the US of Japanese parents in 1977. I grew up in Tacoma and Seattle, Washington. After high school I moved back to Japan to attend college and lived with my father’s uncle. I didn’t buy a car until I moved back to the US after college and after I had one job in Japan. I studied to be an architect and have been able to work as one since college. I like photography and bronze sculpture. My favorite color is blue and my high school was West Seattle High School. I was married in 2004 and have two children.

From this launching point I can create all the little details. I’ll look up things online such as schools and teachers. I will create the names of my first girlfriend, my wife, my fake mom and dad and so on. Take the time to memorize all these details. You’ll need to write them down but be very careful about where you save these details and how you name them. If someone finds a piece of paper titled “My First Novel” and it has a character outline then they will likely never guess what this information is really for.

Putting Your New You to Use

Now that you have your fake identity set up you will need to go online to your social media, email, banking, and other sites and services to update those password/account recovery questions. This is a little tedious to do but it's well worth your time. Combine this system with the password system and you will be very secure when online but you will be able to remember both your password and your secret questions.

Don is the Information Technology Director at the law firm of Stahancyk, Kent & Hook in Portland, Oregon. He is a member of the Portland FileMaker Pro User Group, an Apple Developer, and provides expert testimony for clients in Oregon and Southwest Washington. He enjoys social media, photography, providing technical support tips in web forums, talking long walks with his son, and riding his Ducati motorcycle. He can’t wait to share with you some of the new technology the firm is working on.


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